When The Feedsack Dress came out in 2007, I started a blog on Typepad that focused on life during the late 1940s and early 1950s. I stopped posting there in 2012, but you can still link to The Feedsack Kids. I’m posting some new blogs and my favorite old ones here.
Readers will join me in celebrating the publication of Show Me the Sinister Snowman at 2 p.m. tomorrow, Saturday, May 20, at Columbia Books, 1907 Gordon Street, Columbia, MO.
Today I’ve been thinking about what to say to them between their browsing among the new and antiquarian books and nibbling on refreshments. Sinister Snowman is the fifth book in the series, so most people there will have read at least one of the books. What do they want to know about the series and the new book?
Beats me, but those who come to these book launches always ask lots of questions. I’ll answer them gladly and, unlike my protagonist, truthfully.
To set the stage for questions, I’ll speak briefly about changes in the lives of the three main characters—former CIA covert operative Phoenix Smith, widowed small-town socialite Annalynn Carr Keyser, and struggling singer/music teacher Connie Diamante—over the seven months in which the five books take place.
I also usually do a short reading. I’ve been debating whether to read from a humorous scene in the first chapter or an unpublished blog written in the voice of many readers’ favorite character, K-9 dropout and faithful sidekick Achilles. In all the books the Belgian Malinois shares the front cover with Phoenix and her Glock. I’ll decide tomorrow.
If you can’t come, you can read the first chapter by linking to the book’s page from under Show Me Mysteries on the navigation bar. I’ll give a link to the blog next week.
The great thing about book launches is talking to readers face to face rather than just on the page.
Last night the Missouri Writers’ Guild recognized Thunder Beneath My Feet with third place for the Walter Williams Major Work Award. The honor rarely goes to a middle grade/young adult novel.
Named for the founder of the world’s first School of Journalism and of the Guild, the Major Work Award goes to publications or productions judged “to be worthy of special recognition because of the research or high literary quality involved in its creation.” It is the top award given each year at the annual meeting.
Show Me the Murder won first place in 2014.
Four writers generously invited me to appear on their blogs to celebrate the release of Show Me the Sinister Snowman March 31. Writing to fit their needs and their readers’ preferences proved an interesting challenge.
Below are excerpts from and links to each blog. You may well find other appealing posts there.
April 10: “How I Chose My Imaginary Best Friend”: Debra Goldstein’s It’s Not Always a Mystery: http://www.debrahgoldstein.com/guest-blogger-carolyn-mulford-chose-imaginary-best-friend-click-comments/
The right name [for my protagonist] didn’t come to me until I envisioned the incidents that brought her back to her hometown and compelled her to investigate a murder. So what happened? She was severely wounded during a post-retirement freelance mission in Istanbul and sent home to recover and to be off the shooter’s radar. She adapts her tradecraft to help a lifelong friend unearth the truth about her husband’s violent death.
I named my imaginary best friend Phoenix Smith. Phoenix symbolizes crashing and rising again from flames. Smith is a good name for a spy because it sounds fake.
April 7: Liz Milliron’s Interview: Mysteristas; https://mysteristas.wordpress.com
Do you listen to music when you write?
Only if it’s related to what I’m writing, as when my protagonist plays Mozart on the piano to help her analyze her findings. In the first book, Show Me the Murder, she plays classic country in a bar while undercover. In my new book, Show Me the Sinister Snowman, people trapped by a blizzard entertain themselves by singing Gilbert & Sullivan songs.
April 2: Judy Hogan’s Interview: Postmenopausal Zest; http://postmenopausalzest.blogspot.com
I love the dog, Achilles, and how he and Phoenix relate to and rely on each other. Have other readers responded the same way?
Yes, many readers tell me how much they like Achilles. He functions not only as a pet but also as a comforter and sidekick. He brings out her softer side, and she encourages him to use his skills. He becomes secure enough to dispute her judgment. For example, he pulls her back when she’s rushing into danger, and he barks his disapproval when she’s impatient with her friends.
March 27: “Beware of 10 Common Mistakes”: Kristina Stanley’s Mystery Mondays; https://kristinastanley.com/2017/03/27/mystery-mondays-author-carolyn-mulford-on-10-common-mistakes/#comment-18812
- A lack of action
Something must happen in every chapter. Check that by writing chapter headlines. Be sure you have a plot point and conflict—in solving the crime, in reaching the protagonist’s goals, in personal and professional interactions.
You can see the variety. Check out the one(s) that fits your interest.
To help you with your holiday shopping, Harlequin Worldwide Mystery has released the paperback edition of Show Me the Gold for sale on its direct-to-consumer website, http://www.harlequin.com/storeitem.html?iid=68332.
The third book in the series, Gold literally starts with a bang and presents new personal problems for Phoenix. Reviewer P. J. Coldren wrote, “There are several sub-plots to hold the reader’s attention; this is one of the hallmarks of a seasoned mystery writer. Nobody’s life has only one thing going on in it at any given time. People in mystery novels need to have more in their life than a mystery to solve. The setting is rural Missouri, although any rural community would probably work just as well. There is enough back story to move the reader along, and yet not quite enough—this makes most readers want to go back and read the first two in the series.”
Here’s how HWM describes the plot on the back cover.
Former CIA agent Phoenix Smith is on a stakeout with acting Laycock, Missouri, sheriff Annalynn Keyser, when Keyser is called to a neighboring county. A gang of bank robbers are holed up in an abandoned farmhouse and the local cops need all hands on deck. After a harrowing shootout, a man is dead, another wounded, and the FBI thinks Phoenix—the only one with a gun but no badge—took off with a fortune in gold bullion.
Three members of the notorious Cantree clan were wanted for a previous bank heist in Ohio. Now the lone survivor is out for revenge. As Phoenix fights to clear her name, an old friend solicits her help in a shocking case of elder neglect. Can Phoenix stop the abuse, find the precious South African coins, and elude a stone-cold killer who’s got one last bullet with Phoenix’s name on it?
HWM also offers the paperback edition of the second book, Show Me the Deadly Deer, at harlequin.com. The hardcover editions of all four books (published by Five Star/Gale, Cengage) remain available.
Most of these events feature one of my two new books, Thunder Beneath My Feet, a historical middle grade/young adult novel set during the New Madrid earthquakes, and Show Me the Ashes, the fourth in my mystery series featuring a former CIA covert operative solving crimes in rural Missouri.
April 7, 7 p.m.: An Evening with Local Authors, Barnes and Noble, Columbia (MO) Mall
Marlene Lee, Cathy Salter, and I discuss writing and read from our new books.
April 24-25: Missouri Association of School Librarians Conference, Tan-Tar-A Resort, Osage Beach
As an exhibitor/vendor, I’ll be chatting about Thunder Beneath My Feet and The Feedsack Dress for students and the Show Me mysteries for librarians.
April 29-May 1: Malice Domestic, Hyatt Regency Hotel, Bethesda, MD
10 a.m., Friday: Malice Go Round
Authors will move from table to table to give a two-minute sales pitch for their books. I’ll focus on Show Me the Ashes.
3 p.m., Saturday: Start ’em When They’re YAs
A panel discusses capturing middle grade and young adult readers. Other panelists are Sarah Masters Buckey (moderator), Shelly Dickson Carr, Kathleen Ernst, and Nina Mansfield.
May 7, 2-3:30 p.m.: Reading/signing, Hastings, 1800 North Baltimore, Kirksville, MO
At 2:30 p.m., I’ll speak briefly about why I write both mysteries for adults and historical fiction for young readers and read short passages from Thunder Beneath My Feet.
May 14, 9:30 a.m.: “Writing Your Own Novel,” AAUW Independence Branch Brunch, First United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall, 400 West Maple, Independence, MO
I’ll give tips on drawing on life experience and developing new skills to write a novel.
May 28, 1:30-3:30 p.m.: Reading/signing, Old Timers Reunion, Sullivan County Historical Society, 117 North Water Street, Milan, MO
At 2 p.m., I’ll speak on why I wrote The Feedsack Dress, read short excerpts, and answer questions about that and my other books.
June 4-5: Authors’ Booth, Columbia Chapter of the Missouri Writers’ Guild, Art in the Park, Stephens Park, Columbia, MO
I’ll read from one or more of my books (specific time and place not set).
June 11, 10:30-11:30 a.m.: Signing, Edna Campbell’s Gift Shop, 105 West Washington Street, Kirksville, MO
June 18, 9:30 a.m.: Meet the Author, Boone County Historical Society, 3801 Ponderosa Street, Columbia, MO
I’ll discuss why I wrote Thunder Beneath My Feet and how I researched the New Madrid earthquakes and the community.
June 29, 11:15 a.m.-12:45 p.m.: “The Shocking New Madrid Earthquakes,” Wednesday Mixed Bag Series, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Moss Building, Hillcrest Community Center, Columbia, MO
I’ll share my research on the New Madrid earthquakes and life in Upper Louisiana Territory in 1811-1812 and explain how I turned fact into fiction.
For immediate release
Thunder Beneath My Feet
By Carolyn Mulford
Portrays 1811-1812 New Madrid Earthquakes
The first earthquake struck about 2:30 a.m. on December 16, 1811. In New Madrid, Missouri Territory, brick houses and chimneys turned into rubble. Log cabins caught fire. Tall trees split up the middle. The Mississippi River reversed its flow. Lakes formed. Many residents feared the end of the world. In coastal cities, church bells rang. In the White House, the motion woke President Madison. That was just the beginning. Quakes and aftershocks persisted for months.
In Thunder Beneath My Feet, a historical novel for tweens, teens, and anyone who enjoys history, award-winning author Carolyn Mulford tells how a courageous teenage girl copes with the ongoing destruction and the diverse frontier community’s reactions to it.
Shy, sensible 15-year-old Betsy Lawton takes charge of tale-telling10-year-old Johnnie and the family farm when their mother rides south to nurse her husband. Four days later, the first of the powerful quakes and the severe aftershocks wreak such destruction that many residents become refugees. Betsy stays on the farm to contend with the unending shocks and shakes, an unknown thief, and disapproving neighbors. She must succeed to save herself, Johnnie, the farm animals, and four secretive strangers—a French-Shawnee youth, a mute slave woman, a poor French tutor, and his elegant Spanish wife.
The author says, “The New Madrid earthquakes have fascinated me since I wrote an account for a reading textbook. Although I grew up in northeast Missouri, I hadn’t known that some of the country’s most powerful earthquakes centered in southeast Missouri. And may come again.”
A former magazine editor and freelance writer, Mulford worked on five continents before making the transition to fiction. The Missouri Center for the Book selected The Feedsack Dress, her novel set in 1949, as the state’s Great Read at the 2009 National Book Festival. She also writes a contemporary mystery series for adults. The Missouri Writers’ Guild gave Show Me the Murder its 2014 Major Work Award and Show Me the Gold its 2015 Best Book Award. The fourth book, Show Me the Ashes, will be released in March. The books feature an ex-spy who returns to her hometown and adapts her tradecraft to solving murders.
To read the first chapters of her books and to download cover photos, go to http://CarolynMulford.com. To request an interview or presentation, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-445-0829.
Thunder Beneath My Feet, Rocking Horse Publishing, St. Louis, 2016, 188 pp.
$12.95 (paperback), $4.95 (Kindle)
Sometimes ideas for book evolve for a long time. That’s certainly true of Thunder Beneath My Feet, my newly published historical adventure for tweens and teens and anyone who enjoys history.
The New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-1812 have fascinated me for 30 years. That’s when, as a freelancer, I wrote a short description of the quakes for a textbook. Although I’d grown up in northeast Missouri, I hadn’t realized that some of the most powerful and long-lasting earthquakes on the continent had taken place in southeast Missouri. And may come again.
After moving back to Missouri in 2007, I started thinking about the quakes as a setting for a novel. For several months I read books, websites, and articles in my spare time, fascinated by the people living in and passing through the ambitious little Mississippi River port and how they responded to day after day of terror. Finally facts and creativity gave birth to a plot and characters.
I tell the story from the viewpoint of 15-year-old Betsy Lawton, a shy, sensible girl living on a farm near the village of New Madrid, Upper Louisiana Territory. Her mother must ride south to bring home her ailing husband. She leaves Betsy in charge of the farm and her tale-telling 10-year-old brother. Four days later, the first of the powerful quakes hits, downing buildings and trees and demolishing boats on the river. Betsy must contend with the terrifying shocks and shakes, an unknown thief, and frantic community members to save herself, Johnnie, the farm animals, and four strangers with deep secrets.
To read more about the book and the first chapter, go to this website’s Thunder Beneath My Feet page. Better still, ask your local library to order it or buy your own copy.
Show Me the Ashes comes out in a month. If you’d like a chance to read the uncorrected copy reviewers receive, sign up for the giveway at GoodReads.com by December 2.
The direct link is https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27009695. You can also get to the giveaway by typing in the title on the site’s homepage.
In this book, the fourth in the series, the three main characters’ lives are changing. Phoenix is running the new foundation that she set up to give Annalynn a good job when she finishes her term as sheriff. An applicant begs Phoenix to take on a cold case involving a young mother’s possible false confession, one Annalynn’s late husband encouraged when he was the sheriff.
Not wanting to hurt Annalynn unless new evidence gives grounds for freeing the imprisoned woman, Phoenix investigates secretly with Connie, now negotiating a contract to direct musical comedies. Meanwhile Annalynn enlists Phoenix’s help in solving a series of burglaries that appear headed for violence. To complicate matters, failing to catch the burglar could scuttle Annalynn’s plans to run for Congress.
Achilles has his nose to the ground in both investigations. Someone from one of the cases fears the Belgian Malinois enough to want him dead. Phoenix has to figure out who it is to protect them both.
Kirkus Reviews has posted the first pre-publication review of Show Me the Ashes. That’s a good thing.
Five Star will release the book, the fourth in the series, December 16, 2015.
The Kirkus headline reads: “A former CIA agent must find a way to solve a cold case without hurting her best friend’s feelings.” The conclusion says: “Phoenix’s fourth provides both plenty of action and enough likely suspects to keep you guessing.” In between, the reviewer sketches the characters’ relationships and the two cases that former covert operative Phoenix Smith, singer Connie Diamante, and Sheriff Annalynn Carr Keyser investigate.
If you’d like to read the whole review, go to https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/carolyn-mulford/show-me-the-ashes.
If you’d like to read my description and the first chapter, click on the book’s cover on my home page.
Fifty years ago this week I began my writing career as an editorial assistant for the NEA Journal, then one of the country’s best education magazines. I just signed a contract for my eleventh book, Thunder Beneath My Feet, a middle grade/young adult novel set during the powerful New Madrid earthquakes in late 1811 and early 1812.
Those eleven books represent a relatively small part of my output. For twenty years I worked mostly on magazines, including as the editor of Industrial Research & Development News. The United Nations Industrial Development Organization in Vienna, Austria, published this international technical quarterly.
I didn’t enjoy editing technical articles from experts who spoke English as their second (or third or fourth) language and left in fear the bureaucratic writing style would damage my writing. On the plus side, I formed close friendships with wonderful people from different cultures, and the interactions of colleagues from some fifty countries fascinated me.
My Favorite Job
The job I held the longest (almost five years) and liked the most was as editor of Synergist, a magazine published by the National Center for Service-Learning, iWashington, D.C., for leaders of secondary and postsecondary student volunteer programs. Over those years, service-learning blossomed and moved into the elementary schools.
Much of my time went to locating model programs and soliciting (and editing heavily) articles from the outstanding educators who ran them. I also traveled around the country to write and photograph inspiring programs. I resigned to become a freelancer when I thought I had taken the publication as far as it could go under the politicians who then determined what we could publish.
Computers began to replace electric typewriters while I edited Synergist, and editors and designers struggled to stay close to the “bleeding edge” as publications moved into desktop publishing. Such programs as PageMaker enabled quick, relatively inexpensive turnaround and prompted the golden age of the newsletter.
Over the next twenty-plus years, writing and editing monthly newsletters paid my mortgage and covered most of my basic expenses. Relying on my journalistic skills, I took on many topics, including career tips for dental hygienists, innovative programs for chambers of commerce, and issues affecting sales of oil production equipment.
My major steady client over those years was Communications Concepts, a small company that produced a series of monthly subscription how-to newsletters for corporate communicators. I did most of the planning and wrote most of the articles. For each issue, I interviewed four to six people from around the United States and Canada, reviewed a book or two, and edited a contributor’s article.
The publisher gave me considerable autonomy, and the articles kept me up to date on the field. The newsletters also gave me credibility with other clients and led me to a sideline of teaching graduate-level continuing ed writing and editing courses and giving workshops for writers’ groups.
Other freelance assignments included subbing for an ailing magazine editor, writing a calendar for the National Portrait Gallery, writing the proceedings for a Library of Congress conference, writing and editing textbook material, and covering an International Red Cross meeting in Geneva. For several years I financed much of my travel in the United States and abroad by writing and photographing travel articles.
Most of the magazines and newsletters, and several of the newspapers, that I wrote for died years ago.
The Nonfiction Books
I wrote my nonfiction books between 1984 and 1994. My first two (and most profitable), Guide to Student Fundraising and Financial Fitness for Teens, were works for hire. I had a lot of fun but earned few dollars writing (with Betty C. Ford) Adventure Vacations in Five Mid-Atlantic States. Living in the D.C. area, I earned more respect than income from writing a young adult political biography, Elizabeth Dole, Public Servant.
My hair grayed at the same time the opportunities for lucrative, interesting assignments diminished. Both employees and freelancers felt the effects of the changes technology brought to communications programs and of employers’ increased tendency to equate the ability to type and use a spell-checker with the ability to write and edit.
The Transition to Fiction
Now what? I decided to go back to my original goal of writing novels. I hadn’t been a mystery fan until such excellent writers as Sara Paretsky, Marcia Muller, Sue Grafton, and Margaret Maron showed women could carry a mystery as the main character rather than sidle on the page as a male protagonist’s damsel in distress or lust interest. I enrolled in a class for beginning mystery writers taught by author Noreen Wald and began a long transition from nonfiction to fiction.
One of the great things that came from that class was a critique group of novice mystery writers, all of them now published. We met weekly, with two or three always presenting chapters for review. My first draft took a long time, and so did sales for most of us.
Finally a Novelist
At one low point, I debated whether to continue trying to sell a mystery. I pulled out the manuscript of a children’s book I had written years before and asked the group to critique it as I revised. In 2007, that manuscript, The Feedsack Dress, became my first published novel.
At another low point, I again questioned whether to give up on writing mysteries. While mulling that over, I greatly enjoyed researching the devastating but little remembered New Madrid earthquakes featured in Thunder Beneath My Feet. My initial marketing experience was frustrating, so I put that manuscript aside when I sold my first mystery, Show Me the Murder, in 2011 (published February 2013).
Midway through writing the fifth of the award-winning Show Me series, I returned to Thunder, doing a light revision and then searching for a publisher. I found one on my fiftieth anniversary as a professional writer.
Now I have to finish book five and decide what to write next.
To learn more about the earthquakes and read an excerpt from Thunder Beneath My Feet, go to the navigation bar and click on Other Writings/Works in Progress/Thunder Beneath My Feet.
The Missouri Writers’ Guild gave Show Me the Gold the “Show Me” Best Book Award April 11 during the Guild’s leadership conference in Columbia. Fiction, nonfiction, poetry collections, and scripts were eligible for the award.
Published in December 2014, Gold is the third book in my mystery series, and my third book to receive the Guild’s recognition. Last year Show Me the Murder won the Walter Williams Major Work Award.
The conference marked the hundredth anniversary of the Guild’s founding during Journalism Week at the University of Missouri. An internationally known journalist and educator, Williams founded the world’s first school of journalism in 1908 and led the way in establishing the Guild in 1915.
In 2015, conferees broke into small groups to discuss the issues the 17 chapters’ representatives deemed most critical as the Guild begins its second century. The conference ended with work on action plans.
More reviews of Show Me the Gold went online this week, and the difference in comments from those who had read the first two books and who had read only the third one struck me.
In a brief review on the January 7, 2015, Bibliophilic Books Blog, Star noted that Gold has good characters and an interesting mystery and reads very well as a standalone. She added, “I could have gained more insight into the characters from reading the other books in this series.” To read the full review, go to
I hope her readers follow her advice and read Show Me the Murder and Show Me the Deadly Deer, too.
A similar remark came from P.J. Coldren in a much longer review in the January issue of Reviewing the Evidence. She wrote, “There is enough back story to move the reader along, and yet not quite enough— this makes most readers want to go back and read the first two in the series.”
Coldren saw familiar traits in the characters. She wrote, “Connie, the third member of this long-standing trio, seems to take turns aiding and abetting Annalynn, then Phoenix; who doesn’t have a friend like this?” To read the entire review, go to http://www.reviewingtheevidence.com/review.html?id=10204.
Judy Hogan, who reviewed the first two books, noted, “This is a fast read, but I like the slower scenes best, where we learn more about the characters. Each book in the series reveals more about the trio of women. Fortunately novel four is already in the works.”
Like many reviewers, she didn’t neglect the canine hero: “The dog Achilles continues to add a wonderful human tone to these novels, as do the various minor small town and rural characters.”
Her review ran January 11, 2015, on http://postmenopausalzest.blogspot.com.
One of the reasons readers and writers like series is the chance to get to know the ongoing characters and watch them change.